A well prepared team of experts was on hand in Bella Coola last month to release Shadow, the a Bella Coola grizzly cub who spent the winter in rehab at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society.
Shadow’s mother was euthanized last summer after multiple efforts to trap her were unsuccessful. Her sibling died and an investigation by the provincial vet revealed it was a parasitic infection found most often in black bears.
Shadow entered the shelter at the end of the summer in 2016. According to the owners, she was an exceptional cub from the start.
“She has been the most unusual rehab we’ve ever done, by far,” said Angelika Langen, who owns and operates the Northern Lights Wildlife Society out of Smithers with her husband, Peter. The two accepted the young grizzly into their grizzly rehabilitation pilot project last October after the cub’s sibling died and mother was killed by conservation officers after roaming the community for weeks.
“Everything went as planned,” said Langen. “The release went really, really well.”
Langen said the team consisted of Helen Schwantje, BC Wildlife Veterinarian, and two Conservation Officers.
“The release site was chosen by the Ministry of Environment and it was located well away from civilization,” she said. “The team was involved with the tranquilization and monitoring of the bear as she was flown out by West Coast Helicopters and they stayed on until she was seen to be actively moving about.”
Langen said the bear is outfitted with a radio collar that allows the team to track her movements. The collar is slated to fall off by a built-in mechanism as of July 2018, and is designed to accommodate the young bear’s growth.
“With the radio collar we have been able to see that she is cautiously exploring her new surroundings,” said Langen. “It tells us where she’s at, where she’s going, and even monitors her heart rate so we can tell when she’s been in a stressful situation.”
The team confirmed that Shadow was in good health when she was released. Although she was a small bear Langen said she was “incredibly active” in her enclosure.
Fearful, anxious and elusive, Langen said the cub never warmed up to staff at the centre and spent the winter avoiding all contact with humans.
“That’s why we named her Shadow — she just wasn’t there. She disappeared.”
Langen said they employed the use of a trail camera just to know if the bear was alive and eating. Otherwise, they could only observe her from a great distance without causing her stress.
Like all other grizzlies who have gone through the program, Shadow was kept awake all winter in order for her to eat and grow enough to hold her own in the wild upon release. Her diet in captivity has included fresh meat and fish, fruits and vegetables and even honeycombs.
“In the wild they search out the things they need. Obviously they can’t do that when they’re here so we have to feed them a balanced diet,” Langen said. “She likes apples and she loves grapes.”
Langen said she doesn’t know whether Shadow’s unusual behaviour is simply because she doesn’t like humans or if the loss of her sibling and mother pushed her too far mentally to cope with day-to-day life.
Shadow is the fifth grizzly cub to be rehabilitated from the area. In 2010, a set of three male cubs and a set of two female cubs were successfully rehabilitated at the centre and reintroduced into the Bella Coola area.
Langen said one of the 2010 Bella Coola bear’s collar fell off at the entrance of a “perfect” den it built high up in the mountains the following fall after its release, indicating great success of the program, which is the only one of its kind in the world.
The Langen’s work, including the rehabilitation of Shadow, will be featured on a new 12-episode documentary series called Wild Bear Rescue set to be released sometime in June on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.
“They did a really good job — we are happy with it.”
The Northern Lights Wildlife Society is run entirely on donations, with feeding costs alone averaging between $120 to $130 per day.
At present Langen said the shelter is home to 11 black bears, six moose, deer and otters. She called it a “usual” summer. However, she is anticipating an influx of animals due to wildfire activity across the province.
“With the fires we’re expecting more orphans as animals are separated from their parents,” she explained. “So we’re preparing for that right now.”